Have you ever walked into the grocery store or a restaurant with a plan to make healthy choices, but then your stomach overrules? A new study, published in the Journal of Marketing Research, reveals it’s true — ordering immediately before eating leads to higher-calorie meals. The researchers over at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University to put their theory to the test and found by simply ordering an hour in advance you can save hundreds of calories.

"Ordering meals when you're already hungry and ready to eat leads to an overall increase in the number of calories ordered, and suggest that by ordering meals in advance, the likelihood of making indulgent purchases is drastically reduced," said the study’s lead author Eric M. VanEpps, a postdoctoral researcher at the Penn Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics, in a statement. "The implication is that restaurants and other food providers can generate health benefits for their customers by offering the opportunity to place advance orders."

VanEpps and his research team conducted three experiments over the course of 1,000 meals. First, they found for every additional hour a meal was ordered ahead of time there was about a 38-calorie decrease in the order. Next, researchers found that when a participant ordered food 168 minutes in advance they cut 30 more calories than those who ordered just 42 minutes before they ate. The participants who placed orders in advance ordered significantly fewer calories (890 calories) compared to those who ordered their meals right before they ate (nearly 1,000).

"These findings provide one more piece of evidence that decisions made in the heat of the moment are not as far-sighted as those made in advance," said the study’s senior author George Loewenstein, the Herbert A. Simon University Professor of Economics and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon, in a statement. "For example, people who plan to practice safe sex often fail to do so when caught up in the act, and people who, in dispassionate moments, recognize the stupidity of road rage nevertheless regularly succumb to it. Unfortunately, pre-commitment strategies are more feasible when it comes to diet than to many other behaviors."

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, not only does planning meals ahead of time save you on calories, but it also helps maintain a budget for the week and even month. It gives you control of what you eat, and after a while, becomes a mindless, though positive, habit. It’s also an easy way to track proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and total calories for each day, which helps for those who set out to achieve long-term weight loss goals.

Ordering food ahead of time works on the same effective strategy as meal prep. Hunger can distract a person from their weight loss or healthy eating goals, which is why meal prep and ordering ahead is a key step. It all comes down to having a plan when you’re clear headed and hunger isn’t there to thwart your good intentions.

Source: VanEpps EN and Loewenstein G, et al. Journal of Marketing Research. 2016.